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Police on spot over brutality

He shared a cell with Mukulu

Christopher Aine Kato is another victim who has no kind words for the police after his experience with them. He is still nursing injuries from police arrest on Sept 13. His left hand was beaten to the extent that a month after the incident he still found trouble stretching it.

“After handcuffing me, they started beating me with a metal rod asking me to tell them who we are working with in government”, Aine told the Independent as he unbuttoned his shirt exposing black scars on the back and hands. He is the head of security of presidential hopeful John Patrick AmamaMbabazi’s Go forward pressure group.  A son to one of the 27 National Resistance Army (NRA) armed fighters Lt. Col Julius Aine, he was arrested a week after Mbabazi’s eastern region consultation trip that was largely marred with teargas and even live bullets. Aine who said was beaten on the wrists, ankles and knees was arrested as he left the Go-forward offices based on Nakasero road in Kampala.

“Plain-clothed men all of a sudden jumped out of 5 Toyota Premios holding AK 47 guns. To me this was like a movie scene but before I knew it, I was already handicapped. This however wasn’t a surprise because my allies had already told me I am on the wanted list by the IGP”, he said adding that what surprised him was the manner in which he was handled. “When they finally put me in the car, they started squeezing my ribs until one of them ordered in Luganda that, Mutekekoak’abagoole”. This means they were ordered to blindfold him.

Whenever, he tried to ask why he was being tortured the beating increased. The same day he was taken to two safe houses before being driven to Nalufenya police station in Jinja but along the way, they injected him. “I wasn’t familiar with the two safe houses where they first took me but when I got to Nalufenya, I was put in the same cell with Jamil Mukulu. That’s when I realized where I was. I got so scared because my cellmate couldn’t talk to me. I pleaded with them to transfer me to another cell”.

In Nalufenya, the men introduced him to an officer called Nixon Ayesigire Karuhanga whom they referred to as their boss. At this point, the torture reduced since Ayesigire recognized him as the son to the bush war fighter. But this didn’t guarantee his release. He was only released days later after communicating to his boss.

These cases are some of the most recent violations of human rights by the police. Following such events, the police always come out to defend their actions for instance; the IGP while appearing on national television after Naigaga’s incident said the lady undressed herself in order to taint the image of the institution.  He also said media houses that expose their excesses would face action. This attracted a lot of criticism from talk show pundits and human rights activists who pin the police for being brutal when dealing with the opposition.

‘Police is partisan’

Nicholas Opiyo, High Court advocate and Human rights lawyer is not entirely surprised as he says the police has mastered the strategy of discouraging the opposition.

“They have moved away from the civilian and democratic police to a brutal regime and partisan police,” said Opiyo.

He said there is an inherent right to peaceful demonstration provided in our constitution that everybody must be allowed to exercise that right in accordance with law.

“In a democracy, people must be involved in their governments either by way of demonstrations or presentation. But over time, demonstrations in Uganda have become synonymous with riots. Riots are not demonstrations. So the twisted conception within the police force is that all demonstrations are riots which is wrong”, Opiyo said.  Dr. Livingstone Ssewanyana Executive Director of Foundation for Human Rights Initiative agrees. He said whereas the State has a duty to keep law and order, their tactics in the recent cases are actions outside the law for political, not national peace reasons.

“Their work is designed to lessen competition from opposition parties, which sends a worrying signal in the context of the upcoming elections,” he said.

Critics say on several occasions, even when events are peaceful, police officials have got into a habit of scare mongering by deploying heavily.  In fact columns of foot patrols and motorized guns and snipers have become a common sight whenever the opposition conducts any form of gathering.

On Oct 18, the Human Rights Watch (HRW), an international rights organization released a statement condemning the manner in which people are arrested and the fact that the police fired teargas canisters directly at individuals, turning the canisters into projectiles that caused injury, in addition to the harmful effects of teargas on the skin, eyes, and breathing during Amama Mbabazi’s consultations in eastern Uganda.

The statement reads in part that, witnesses from each location told Human Rights Watch that the gatherings were generally peaceful and had barely begun when police arrived and released teargas. In some cases, the candidate had not yet arrived. Dozens of people said they were injured or felt ill from the teargas, and some were injured by rubber bullets and police beatings”.

Police brutality is not a surprise, for the institution has for long topped lists of institutions that torture people. For instance, the Uganda Human Rights Commission (UHRC) report 2013 indicated that the police was responsible for 177 cases of torture committed in the country in 2012. The report attributed this to the heightened confrontation between the police and opposition which always ended in beatings in order for the officials to extract information from those arrested.

Also, in 2011, just after the polls, reports by HRW show a special unit of the police – Rapid Response Unit carried out torture, extortion and extrajudicial killings by beating people with objects including batons, glass bottles, metal pipes and in some cases inserted pins under detainees’ fingernails. Also, on several occasions opposition politicians were arrested for unrealistic and unmeasurable reasons such as preventing one from a committing a crime, disobeying ‘lawful’ orders and inciting violence among others.

There are fears that the same might happen in this election period although the first two weeks of presidential campaigns have been generally peaceful with the police not interfering in the affairs of candidates and supporters. However questions linger on how the officers are briefed when going for operations.

Fortunate Habyara, the Deputy Commandant at the Professional Standards Unit (PSU) of Uganda Police told The Independent on Oct 22 that they always warn their staff to use minimum force when conducting arrests.

“If you are dealing with an armed person, then the minimum force may defer from a person who has no arms. While arresting, each case is judged with its own merits”.

He said, on a daily basis, before going for the day’s operations, officers are briefed on how well to conduct a specific operation by a person going to deploy them.

Habyara agrees that at times, the officials misbehave and go against the set principals. He pointed out that those who caused an accident on Masaka road on Oct 10 are still being investigated and will face disciplinary action if found guilty.  He said the unit has put in place an avenue to issue in feedback and so far they get about 100 complaints per day.

To make the 2016 general election meaningful and achieve its purpose of advancing elections as the guarantor of democracy, Ssewanyana says it is important that key organs of the state like the police not only act but must also be seen to act with the highest level of professionalism and non-partisanship.

He however cautions political players especially those in the opposition to act responsibly and within the laws of the land and appreciate that they equally have an obligation to avoid unnecessary commotion and disruption of the life of citizens.

Opiyo says Police in their actions should treat every party fairly not according to preferential treatment to the NRM. Police should also admit to their mistakes sometimes as they are subject to independent scrutiny and investigation.  “They should rather get back to their role of ensuring that the exercise of human rights is not only respected but guaranteed. The Public Order Management Act should be enforced but not be used to gag free expression, movement and assembly of Ugandans contrary to the provisions in the Constitution”, he said.

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